Disney with the Peeps

by Donna Fesel, contributing writer

My regular vacation team when visiting Walt Disney World is me, my husband, and my 10-year-old son; I am the chief WDW vacation planner for my crew. I am pretty well-versed in what we like to do, what we like to eat, and how far in advance it all needs to be planned.

My regular vacation team is a well-oiled machine. We know each other very well—we know if someone is cranky, overtired, overheated, hungry; we know when someone is about to lose it, and what will bring that person back from the edge. We also know what makes each other laugh and what things are of interest to one another to point out, and we mostly agree when it's time to quit the theme parks for the day and retreat to the pool or the arcade.

I'm guessing you have your regular WDW travel team, too, consisting of friends, or family. Or perhaps you even prefer to go to WDW alone, so you can do exactly what you want each day.

I've had occasion to travel to WDW with different groups outside of my immediate family. Each trip has been wonderful in its own version (it's Walt Disney World, people), but each trip was so different, and each had its own highlights and challenges. I've learned some things with each of these experiences.

My semi-regular guest on trips to WDW with my immediate family is our adorable dog, Yoshi. We don't typically stay at a Fort Wilderness campsite, so Yoshi does not stay on WDW property, nor does Yoshi visit the theme parks, a no-dog zone. Yoshi stays at one of two kennels near WDW: Best Friends Pet Care, and VIPet Resort. Whichever of these places Yoshi stays at, he gets playtime, lots of cuddles and walks, and we can pop over to see him when we have a minute.

Best Friends Pet Care

One kennel we use is one you may have passed on WDW property, Best Friends Pet Care is located across from Disney's Port Orleans Resort, and is operated by a contractor. As soon as you pull up to Best Friends, and see the unique and playful exterior (complete with colorful hydrants and a giant dog bone). Best Friends offers a variety of accommodation types for your pet at different price points.

My husband, my dog, and my son, soak up the atmosphere outside Best Friends Pet Care at Walt Disney World. Photo by Donna Fesel.

Yoshi stays in a Vacation Villa with an outdoor area and a snuggly dog bed. The room even features a television; on our last visit, his in-room television was showing 101 Dalmations. There are group play activities and potty walks, which may be included in the daily rate depending on which accommodation you choose, or these rates may be additional. The gated, outdoor area of Best Friends is expansive, so when you come by to visit your little buddy, you can run around and have a blast. You can buy extras like special treats, or even spring for grooming while your pet is on site.

My dog is welcomed at Best Friends Pet Care at Walt Disney World. Photo by Donna Fesel.

We find the standard of care at Best Friends to be very high. Yoshi visited when he was a puppy, and got a little rash from the grass. Best Friends called us, and treated him immediately and with great care. Best Friends regularly emailed us photos of Yoshi, and when he checked out, we got a report card. You can even watch your pet in the common areas on a live stream on the Best Friends website. Every time we visited him at Best Friends, Yoshi was in great spirits. Best Friends also offers a discount for Disney Vacation Club (DVC, Disney's timeshare program) members.

VIPet Resort

Another pet boarding facility is VIPet Resort, a short drive from WDW. VIP is more affordable than Best Friends, but the standard of care is equally high. There is no particular outdoor theming, just a simple building in a business park, but what VIP lacks in outside pizazz it makes up for with wonderful staff and spotlessly clean facilities.

The overnight rate at VIP includes a big room, a television showing Animal Planet, outside walks, playtime at the indoor play area called Hot Dog Park, comfy beds, rooms cleaned three times daily, laundry cleaned before departure, meals prepared as you specify, fresh water at all times, bedtime snack.

When you enter VIP, you are greeted warmly by the caring staff who know your pet's and your name. Whenever we check Yoshi in at VIP, things are quiet and registration is speedy. Yoshi immediately seems at ease, and as a result so do we. At VIP, you can take a tour and ask for an orientation if you like, they'll text you photos of your pet during playtime, and your pet gets a report card when he or she checks out.

I've also travelled to WDW with good friends, and it has consistently been a blast. These trips, usually taken with people I've known for years are easy because much like my husband and son, because I know and love these folks. My friends are happy to abdicate planning responsibility to me; they know I am the most WDW knowledgeable, and that I will ask for their input before finalizing anything important. Also they are busy people and happy to have some free vacation planning.

My buddy Jered and I await the rope drop at the Magic Kindgom last fall. Photo by Donna Fesel.

These trips have been special because I get to have the opportunity to share one of my very favorite places with some of my most favorite people. I travelled to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival with my very best friend last fall and we had a blast. We ate our way around the festival, sampling lots of delicious snacks (he loved the pimiento cheese, and I am the biggest fan of the lamb chop with mint pesto) and toasting our short but action-packed trip.

My buddy Monisha and I battle it out on Toy Story Midway Mania! at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Photo by Donna Fesel.

We also had a memorable meal at Narcoossee's at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, and then enjoyed watching Wishes from the dock. On another trip, a very good friend of mine came with my family to WDW. She loves to try new food, so we got the meal plan and ate our way around most of WDW. We battled each other on Toy Story Mania and had a terrific time at the Hoop Dee Doo Revue.

Princess Jasmine poses with my husband (left), and my buddy Jered (right) inside Cinderella's Royal Table at the Magic Kingdom. Photo by Donna Fesel.

I've taken trips to WDW for work, lucky me. My first trip ever to WDW was when I was in my 20s and working on a small family-run teen magazine. I can't remember the occasion, but WDW was celebrating a milestone and hosting a press junket to encourage coverage of the events. I went with a co-worker of mine and we each also got to bring a guest.

The experience was amazing, not just because WDW spoiled us (they were serving champagne off trays at then MGM Studios and leaving us treats in our rooms at night), but because wow, what a way to experience WDW for the first time. I couldn't believe how spotless everything was, how seamlessly everything seemed to run, how tasty all the food was, and how the attractions surpassed my wildest dreams. It was everything I pined for as a kid when I watched clips about WDW on The Wonderful World of Disney.

From left to right: my father-in-law, me, my son, and my husband on the boat dock outside Disney's Wilderness Lodge. Photo by Donna Fesel.

I was also lucky enough to attend a training at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort many years later. I brought a friend and we stayed in one of the many lovely rooms at the Resort. In the evening, we were able to take advantage of discounted park tickets offered to conventioneers (definitely worth looking into). Classes by day (including a spectacular presentation by The Disney Institute on customer service), theme parks by night. By trip's end I was pooped, but it was worth it. On that trip I learned that even a few hours a day of WDW are magical.

My son and his uncle chat at the Dawa Bar at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Photo by Donna Fesel.

I've taken trips to WDW with extended family twice, one time in a group of 10 of my husband's family. In both instances, the WDW planning was deferred to me. The trip with my sister and her husband was different because they like to sleep in and be spontaneous about when and where they eat. That was tough for me to reconcile with my up at the crack of dawn and eat at an assigned time WDW style.

By the evening of day one, as I watched my son light up and laugh around his uncle whom he loves, I decided this trip would be different than other trips to WDW where we follow my schedule. Reservations for dinner went out the window sometimes (we called to cancel, of course), and we understood that when my sister says she'll be there in a few minutes, it means closer to an hour and we should just have her give us a call when she's nearby.

What I learned on that trip to WDW is that (although you might think it's obvious) everyone is not me. Everyone is not to the minute on time, and that letting go a little isn't always easy for me, but any discomfort can be far outweighed by the joy of being with family.

The trip with my husband's family was different, too. Again, no one wanted to have input on planning, and the challenge was that I wasn't sure what people would want to do. My brother-in-law ended up at a different hotel than everyone else, and joined us only at dinner. My niece wanted to spend all of her time with Ariel. No one was that interested in being at the parks at opening.

Since I knew we'd be together at dinner, I tried to find places fun for a big group. We did Ohana (we had a few big eaters, so this was pretty successful), Hoop Dee Doo (big hit), and California Grill (a favorite of mine, and a great photo opportunity out on the balcony with the Magic Kingdom in the distance).

That trip was very different for me, but I figured out that everyone was happiest just doing their own thing. If people were very late for a boat to Magic Kingdom, I let them know we were going on ahead and would see them there. If people wanted to go to a different park, I encouraged it.

I also can say that to this day, my husband's mother calls the trip a beautiful experience; I guess that's not too shabby.